Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz Influencer LinkedIn

President, Charles Schwab Foundation & Senior Vice President, Charles Schwab; Chairman of the Board, Schwab Charitable

In this series, professionals explain how to lead in times of turmoil or growth.

One of the most important things about being a leader is acknowledging that it’s not about how great you are; it’s about helping the people around you achieve great things. Of course, it’s natural to start out focusing on yourself, building your skills, and developing your expertise. But over the years, I’ve learned that to be an effective leader you have to first and foremost be an effective coach; that as a leader, you’re only as good as your team.

Tackle your insecurities

To be a good leader you don’t always have to be first, or even the best. What you need is the courage to bring out the best in others — to help them improve their skills and opportunities.

One of my favorite books is Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s the story of how President Lincoln invited his chief rivals into his cabinet. He knew each person was right for the job, and he didn’t fear that they would usurp his power. As a leader, Lincoln understood that surrounding himself with the best people was the key to accomplishing his own goals.

Build your team — and let them run

To build a strong team you have to be inclusive — and creative. Look beyond the obvious choices and seek out people with differing skills and ideas. Surround yourself with new thinkers. You’re not looking for people who are just like you, you’re looking for people who are better than you in certain areas, who can offer new insight and fill in the gaps. My own team is extremely diverse. We come from different backgrounds. We’re different ages. We have different skill sets. We’re not all in high finance, but we’re all high performers. And we all share a passion to help people take control of their financial lives.

Once you have your team in place, let them do what they do best. Make them part of the decision-making process. When people know that they have some skin in the game — and that you have confidence in them — they’ll work harder and have more impact.

On the flip side, when someone on your team isn’t working out, it’s best to acknowledge that right away and make some changes. You’re not doing anyone any favors by keeping someone who isn’t the right fit.

Show your human side

Sometimes the way to be strongest is to show your vulnerabilities. Be truthful, even when there are uncertainties. If you can honestly share some of your worries, and can be open about insecurities that you know others are feeling, you’ll build greater trust with your team.

As you show your humanity, acknowledge theirs. A good leader understands that people need to be recognized not just for what they do, but also for who they are. Especially in difficult times, a little personal understanding can lift spirits and foster greater enthusiasm. For instance, during the recession, we sponsored our first employee volunteer week. Given the poor economy, the company was making some difficult financial decisions, and several executives suggested we consider cutting the volunteering program. But after some discussion, we agreed it could be an important way to give our employees a greater purpose; to help bring us together as human beings and make life a little better for others.

Be bold and open to new experiences

The best way to explain what I mean by this is to share a personal story. A number of years ago, a friend wanted me to meet Khao Cates (above), a young rap producer with an interest in helping kids and teens. I didn’t know anything about this person and I confess I wasn’t really into rap music, but I agreed to meet with him. And what a meeting it turned out to be! Not only did Khao and I become great friends, he actually wrote a rap for me about money management — which I performed in front of 400 teachers, regulators and nonprofit executives at an awards event. Talk about a new experience! OK, it didn’t point me in a new career direction, but it did evolve into Khao writing raps for each module of our Money Matters program for teens. It was a novel idea that made finances more relevant and interesting and helped engage the kids in the program. And I like to think it was a good example to my team of what can happen when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and explore new ways to solve problems. (It probably gave them a few laughs as well.)

Communicate openly — listen attentively

Finally, a good leader has to be a good communicator. And that also means being a good listener. It’s always a two-way street. Of course, you need to communicate your vision and your expectations, but you also need to be open to what others think even if they don’t agree with you. And don’t be afraid to take risks or go off script, especially if you’re introducing something new. Just be genuine and thoughtful about what you’re communicating and let people express themselves. Experience has taught me that the more opportunities you give your team to engage with you and openly discuss what’s on their minds, the more successful you’ll be in gaining their support, their understanding, and, ultimately, achieving great things.